Ultimately, though, the question of whether House Dems can exert any leverage over the talks lies with Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer. As E.J. Dionne notes today, if a sizable bloc of liberals can be counted on to vote No, that could actually strengthen the position of Pelosi and Hoyer, since GOP leaders will be relying on them and a sizable number of middle-of-the-road House Dems to vote Yes.
Pelosi, of course, has been urging Dems not cave on cuts to Medicare benefits. If history is any guide, of course, many House Dems will ultimately support the eventual deal once the President asks them to for the good of the party, his presidency, and the country. But if Pelosi holds firm — and persuades Obama and John Boehner that enough House Dems agree with her to make passage difficult — it’s not inconceivable that she can help bring about a deal that isn’t quite as terrible as the one we’re all expecting.
I hope nobody's counting on Hoyer because he's been agitating for "entitlement" cuts forever.
The problem, as usual, is that progressives really want to raise the debt ceiling while the conservatives really would like to see the economy crash and burn. (If it weren't for their corporate masters, they'd do it too.) Sooo, we get to the deadline and the progressives who come out making all kinds of "pledges" to hold fast are faced with being accused as the instrument of Armageddon. (You'll note that the teabaggers who refuse to vote for the package will not be similarly tarred.)
I'm fairly sure John Boehner and Barack Obama understood this dynamic before they even began their "talks." After all, it's been happening over and over again since January of 2009. And it's also one of the best reasons to drag this out until the very last minute -- it gives the Democrats no time to maneuver before the end of the world.
It's possible that the Democrats will hang tough this time. After all, the country is entirely on their side on the 'entitlement' issue. But the consequences of failing to raise the debt limit are serious and neither side wants to be blamed for it.
Update: So begins the semantic spin from the White house:
There is no news here – the President has always said that while social security is not a major driver of the deficit, we do need to strengthen the program and the President said in the State of the Union Address that he wanted to work with both parties to do so in a balanced way that preserves the promise of the program and doesn't slash benefits
"Strengthening" is in the eye of the beholder, of course. If it's the "chained-CPI" change we've been hearing about for a while now, it certainly will result in a benefit cut. The oldest people will bear the brunt of it --- mostly older women, and who cares about them? However, by injecting Social Security into the phony debt ceiling "crisis" despite the fact that it has no bearing on the deficit, they are ensuring that there will be no time for deliberation or discussion of what these "strengthening" policies really are. It's a classic Shock Doctrine tactic.